Russia's Justice Ministry on August 20 declared the Dozhd television channel (TV Rain) a "foreign agent," part of what Kremlin opponents say is a crackdown on critical media before parliamentary elections next month.
Adopted in 2012 and amended repeatedly, Russia’s controversial "foreign agent" legislation requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits. Later modifications of the law targeted foreign-funded media.
Organizations designated have to carry out administrative procedures, including clearly indicating their status to the public.
Dozhd operates online and has long been a platform where Kremlin critics who are unable to get on state TV have been able to express their views.
In mid-June, Dozhd was expelled from the journalists' pool of Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently because the outlet had covered the return of politician Aleksei Navalny from Germany to Russia and the rallies in his support.
Investigative journalists working for another outlet, Important Stories, were also added to the list of "foreign agent" media on August 20, the official register of the ministry showed.
They included Editor In Chief Roman Anin; journalists Roman Shleinov, Irina Dolinina, Alesya Marokhovskaya, Dmitry Velikovsky; and former staffer, Olesya Shmagun. Journalist Stepan Petrov also appeared on the list.
On August 18, the independent election monitoring group Golos said Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated it a “foreign agent,” a move that is likely to hamper the monitor's work during next month's parliamentary and local elections.
Golos has painstakingly documented allegations and evidence of fraud in past elections, including the 2011 parliamentary vote, in which suspicions of widespread rigging on behalf of the ruling United Russia party fueled large protests, and the 2012 presidential ballot that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
The September 17-19 elections are for members of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament and a key instrument of Putin's power, as well as regional and local balloting.
The Justice Ministry maintains two other registries of "foreign agents" -- one is for NGOs registered in Russia, and the other is for media outlets.